A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Home Siding

March 26, 2018
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Chicago, Illinois
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You probably don’t spend much time thinking about as you go about your busy days. But when you notice that your home or business is projecting an unkempt, run-down appearance, or your interior suddenly feels like it might have become one with the exterior, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it can find its way to the top of your mind.

Never fear—if you’re in desperate need of some siding savvy, this article offers guidance to help you make the wisest investment possible in the longevity, curb appeal, and value of your property. From basic vinyl to fiber cement, wood, and even metal cladding options, here’s a rundown of what you should know.

 

Vinyl Siding

Thanks to its low price point and relative ease of installation, vinyl siding is the most popular cladding material used in North America. Although some are not fond of its somewhat plastic-y look, many recent advancements have been made in its appearance, as well as in the selection and durability of available colors and finishes.

 

  • Cost: Vinyl is the least expensive exterior cladding option available—approximately 30% less than the insulated or foam-backed version.
  • Installation Difficulty: Installation is relatively fast and easy, meaning any labor costs will also be lower.
  • ROI: According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), you can expect to recoup up to 83% of your investment in new vinyl siding at resale.
  • Energy Efficiency: Varies from product to product but, generally, non-insulated vinyl siding offers minimal insulating effects and has little impact on energy use.
  • Ideal User: Requiring minimal tools and materials to install and available through big box stores as well as online outlets, vinyl is the most feasible option for do-it-yourselfers, and a cost-effective solution for upgrading the curb appeal of a home destined soon to be sold or “flipped”.
  • Pro Tip: Compare the thickness of the panels—thicker material will generally be of better quality and more durable.

Benefits

  • Needs no painting, won’t warp or twist, and is considered to be the best choice for defending your property against insects and moisture
  • Available in a range of colors, styles, textures and trim options for effortless customization
  • As one of the only non-absorptive cladding options, minimizes the accumulation of moisture and the potential for penetration
  • Lightweight and can be fitted over existing siding
  • Color nowadays is infused right through the material, so fading and scratching are no longer major concerns.

Drawbacks

  • Over time, can melt, burn, crack and become unstable or rattle in high winds
  • Even with recent advancements, the oft-touted “realistic” appearance of wood finish vinyl is debatable.

 

Insulated Vinyl Siding

Insulated siding is vinyl siding with rigid foam insulation laminated or permanently attached to each panel. It reduces energy loss through the studs of a structure by impeding thermal bridging, blanketing a home's exterior to increasing the overall R-value of exterior walls.

  • Cost: Slightly higher than traditional vinyl and similar to concrete or wood siding
  • Installation Difficulty: Comparable to traditional vinyl. Some insulated vinyl options may come in larger panels or longer boards, meaning faster installation and fewer visible seams.
  • ROI: The general consensus seems to be that you can recoup in the range of 77% of your money invested in insulated siding at resale.
  • Energy Efficiency: Can increase R-values to 3 or higher, depending on product used and geographical location of the application.
  • Ideal User: Anyone looking for a cost-effective upgrade that will provide improved energy-efficiency and performance, and that has a good chance of retaining its appearance and value for the duration of their occupancy.
  • Pro Tip: Feasible to tackle as a DIY project, but ensure that the manufacturer provides detailed instructions, follow them to the letter, and also educate yourself as much as possible through online and other resources.

Benefits

  • Recognized as a form of continuous insulation by many energy codes and energy efficiency programs such as ENERGY STAR and LEED
  • Never needs painting, caulking, or anything much more than occasional cleaning with mild soap and a garden hose
  • Better impact resistance, weather performance, and sound control than traditional vinyl
  • May qualify homeowner for energy tax credits

Drawbacks

  • Can be prone to warping and/or buckling if not properly installed
  • May impede the ventilation and drainage of the property
  • Can become loose during high winds or storms

 

Fiber Cement Siding

A blend of cement, sand, and cellulose, fiber cement is widely considered to most closely mimic the appearance of real wood, shingles, stucco and other textures. Can be purchased factory-primed and painted after installation, or pre-painted at a higher cost for improved performance and durability.

  • Cost: Two to three times higher than aluminum or vinyl
  • Installation Difficulty: Those with some DIY skills should find installation relatively easy as long as the manufacturer’s instructions and specifications for their products are followed.
  • ROI: According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), expect to recoup up to 79% of your investment in fiber cement siding at resale.
  • Energy Efficiency: A low R-value and minimal energy savings can be bolstered by the use of insulating sheathing products.
  • Ideal User: Property owners who are confident with DIY projects and who are not planning to sell for at least the next five years
  • Pro Tip: If installing yourself, cut nailing time in half by renting a pneumatic coil nailer designed specifically for fiber cement. (Make sure to experiment first on a non-visible area!)

Benefits

  • Non-combustible and resistant to fire, impacts, insets, rodents and water
  • More durable than wood
  • Can result in a noticeable improvement in energy costs and home comfort
  • Will look great for 10+ years if you choose to paint it yourself to perfectly match or complement your exterior
  • A clean, smooth appearance due to no overlapping seams

Drawbacks

  • Requires more manpower to deliver and install, which can drive up costs
  • Not completely maintenance-free as with time repainting is sure to be required
  • Depending on how long the property is owned, siding may eventually need to be repaired or replaced.

 

Wood Siding

Generally the most expensive siding material, wood is nonetheless preferred by many for its warmth and charming aesthetic. It is often the material of choice in areas where architectural heritage and continuity are in demand. The most commonly-used and durable woods for siding are western red cedar and redwood.

  • Cost: Wood is often the most expensive option, and even more so when you factor in future painting and maintenance costs.
  • Installation Difficulty: Perhaps best left to the experts. Caulking, finishing, and special materials for allowing the wood to breathe all add up to extra time and labor-intensity.
  • ROI: Despite the fact that it needs regular upkeep, real wood siding is perceived by buyers as a high-end, desirable feature and can boost your home’s resale value appreciably.  
  • Energy Efficiency: Estimates vary, but by most accounts wood siding has a relatively low R-Value, ranging between 0.8 and 1.19 depending on the configuration and thickness of the material. 
  • Ideal User: Anyone whose home is part of a neighborhood of similar homes with a specific architectural heritage or aesthetic, or those who just love the look of real wood and feel its authentic appearance is worth some extra cost and effort.
  • Pro Tip: Inspect your wood siding regularly to identify any problems and fill in holes to discourage pests.

Benefits

  • Impact-resistant
  • Long-lasting with proper care, and easy to repair
  • Customizable installation options and materials, including clapboard, shingles, and shakes
  • Generally considered to be the most biodegradable and environmentally-friendly option

Drawbacks

  • Vulnerable to rot, insects, and woodpeckers
  • Needs periodic inspection, maintenance and/or refinishing

 

Steel, Aluminum, and Metal Siding

Often the first choice for agricultural and commercial applications, steel siding offers unmatched protection and durability for a variety of structures and applications.

  • Cost: Often the cheapest to install, especially if applied over existing siding. Aluminum costs less than steel, and expect to tack on about $1 extra per square foot for insulated panels.
  • Installation Difficulty: Although a bit more challenging than vinyl to install with some special tools being needed, steel can nonetheless be applied quite quickly and efficiently.
  • ROI: The ROI for metal siding averaged nationally is estimated to be 86%.
  • Energy Efficiency: Even uninsulated metal siding provides some degree of protection against heat loss in winter and acts to maintain coolness in summer.
  • Ideal User: Anyone looking for a practical, environmentally friendly, and damage-resistant material that can perform well for up to 50 years with minimal maintenance would be wise to investigate metal siding.
  • Pro Tip: With large metal panels weighing several hundred pounds, you’ll need a partner or team to help move them into position for mounting. Pay special attention also to the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper flashing and waterproofing.

Benefits

  • Straightforward installation and unlimited colors to choose from
  • Impervious to insects and resistant to fire, climate extremes and high winds
  • Green product life cycle (meaning it is often manufactured from recycled metals and can in turn be recycled when dismantled)

Drawbacks

  • Can be noisy, susceptible to impacts, and easily dented
  • Unless aluminum is used, scratches must be painted or will rust
  • Rust can be a concern for non-aluminum metal siding in coastal areas with salt spray, fog and other forms of humidity and dampness

 

So, there you have it—an informative starting point for kicking off your siding search. You should also check out the many useful resources and how-to videos available online and elsewhere to help you make an informed decision, and find out what you can about local and national siding manufacturers and suppliers.

Any effort you put in should be well worth it. Whether you have a horse farm in Chico, operate a restaurant near the ocean in Jacksonville, or make your home amid the four-season splendor, siding installation is an affordable and relatively straightforward improvement that can protect your property and pump up its curb appeal, along with the price it will bring when you sell.


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